December 8, 2018

This week in TV Guide: December 13, 1958

The greatest newsman of the time, Edward R. Murrow, has an article this week about "How TV Can Help Us Survive." If you've read The Electronic Mirror, you know that I have a section in which various public figures discuss television's role in shaping American culture and strengthening the public good, and Murrow's article, adapted from a speech he gave to the Radio-Television News Directors Association, belongs squarely in that category. Murrow starts out with a  provocative comment regarding radio and television: "I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage." His comments strike precisely at what I've been saying and writing all these years, about television's role as a time capsule preserving a historical record.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.

Here Murrow, as have many before and after him, is attacking the relentless drone of entertainment at the expense of education and information. "If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: 'Look Now, Pay Later.' For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive." And he means that literally.

Murrow gives the public credit for being "more reasonable, restrained and more mature" than programmers think. Those programmers are fearful men; they fear controversy, they fear pressure, they fear giving offense, they fear the loss of profit. They are not content, Murrow says, to be "half safe." And in doing so, they create their own precedent and tradition, and it is not a positive one.

What should they do? They should editorialize, confident that the public will recognize it as "an effort to illuminate, [not] agitate." They should present the news, in a format and with enough time for important stories to be told in-depth, and for some stories to be told at all. And they should put their duty to the public ahead of financial consideration; here Murrow cites a recent speech by President Eisenhower on the possibility of war between the Soviet Union and Communist China. NBC and CBS both delayed the broadcast for 75 minutes, presumably in order not to preempt profitable programs. "That hour-and-15 minute delay, by the way, is about twice the time required for an ICBM to travel from the Soviet Union to major targets in the United States." Concludes Murrow, "It is difficult to believe that this decision was made by men who love, respect, and understand news."

Murrow goes on to criticize television's desire to find the lowest common denominator—in other words, the largest possible audience. "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire," but doing that requires effort. He suggests that advertisers, who at this point control most of the television schedule, to give one or two of their programs back to the networks—they'll still put up the money for sponsoring it, but will exercise no editorial control over the contents. He thinks of it as a tithe, a way of giving back, of being responsible.

In conclusion, Murrow emphasizes the threat facing the United States; we are now "in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects, and fill those minds with slogans, determination, and faith in the future." If we continue as we are, we are protecting the public from realizing the threat that we face. "We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information." We must be determined to use television as a weapon in this fight against complacency, against ignorance, against dullness, against the enemy abroad. Quoting Stonewall Jackson (which he certainly wouldn't be allowed to do today, Jackson being a Confederate general), Murrow says, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television, he says, is that "it is rusting in the scabbard—during a battle for survival."

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You'll notice how Murrow, regardless of what his political preference might have been, consistently uses the language of an American, i.e. "we" and "us." There is no sense of neutrality, no attempt to remain somehow above any kind of partiality. We see another example of this on Tuesday at 6:30, when CBS presents Where We Stand, an examination of how the United States measures up to the Soviet Union in terms of armaments, economics, and education. The guests include a glittering array of experts, including retired General Matthew Ridgway, Air Force General Bernard Schriever, Rear Admiral John Hayward, NASA boss T. Keith Glennan, and Harvard economists Sumner Slichter and Abram Bergson. It's an impressive array of CBS correspondents as well, including Walter Cronkite as host, plus familiar names like George Herman, Howard K. Smith, and Richard C. Hottelet.

There's a question asked in the first line of the Close-Up, "How does our strength compare with the U.S.S.R.'s." I'm always struck, in watching the television coverage of JFK's assassination, how often various reporters refer to "our" president, "our" nation, "our" ambassador to Vietnam. How the times have, in fact, changed. Not to say that today's media is neutral, you understand...

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Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., NBC Opera Theatre presents the eighth annual broadcast of "America's Favorite Christmas Opera,"* Amahl and the Night Visitors, with Kirk Jordan now assuming the role of Amahl. Following a break for Meet the Press and Chet Huntley Reporting, NBC's back with more Yuletide cheer in the form of Hallmark Hall of Fame's production of "Christmas Tree," a series of vignettes using song, dance, and skating, with an all-star cast including Ralph Bellamy, Carol Channing, Maurice Evans, Tom Poston, Cyril Ritchard, William Shatner, and Jessica Tandy. Later Sunday night, at 8:30 p.m., WTCN presents a half hour of Christmas music by a nurses' choir. There are similar local music programs scattered throughout the week; WTCN, in fact, has another on Monday.

*Also, at the time, America's only Christmas opera.

Tuesday, WCCO carries "A Christmas Gift" (9:00 p.m.), a local production hosted by Cedric Adams, featuring the songs and melodies of the Christmas season. On Wednesday, Lawrence Welk's Plymouth Show (his Saturday show was sponsored by Dodge) includes seasonal songs like "Christmas in Killarney," "Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer," and "Silver Bells," with Alice Lon, the Lennon Sisters, and others (6:30 p.m., ABC). It's also simulcast on 1280 AM for those who'd like to enjoy the experience in stereo. And at 9:00 p.m., CBS's U.S. Steel Hour presents "One Red Rose for Christmas," starring Helen Hayes and Patty Duke.

The way the issues fell in this year's review (November 27 straight to December 13), if feels as if we're missing a whole week of Yuletide treats. But don't worry—I have a feeling we'll be making up for lost time next week.

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There's plenty of sports on tap this week, including the first and only staging of the Blue Grass Bowl in Louisville (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., ABC), featuring Oklahoma State and Florida State, two college football teams with not nearly the high profile that they have today. (Oklahoma State won 15-6, by the way.) The most notable thing about that game, according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, is that it marks the national debut of Howard Cosell.  Saturday's also the return of college basketball; unlike today's saturation coverage, college hoops didn't tip off on TV until near the end of the year, when conference play took center stage. Among the games on tap Saturday is one that wouldn't cut the mustard today, I suspect—a local matchup between Hamline, my alma mater, and Augsburg, from the Minneapolis Auditorium. (8:00 p.m., KMSP)

On Sunday, an interesting football choice. CBS is scheduled to carry the Lions-Bears game from Chicago at 1:00 p.m., but at the same time there's a note that if the Eastern Conference championship hasn't been decided, the network might instead carry the game between the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants at Yankee Stadium. As it happens, the conference crown hasn't been decided, and the Browns-Giants game (yes, those two teams were good back then) becomes an instant classic, with Giants kicker (and future announcer) Pat Summerall booting the winning field goal that enables the Giants to tie the Browns for the conference title, meaning the two will meet again the following week in a playoff game to determine the winner. The Giants win that game as well, which sets up the Greatest Game Ever Played, the sudden-death championship game against the Baltimore Colts, a story for another day.

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What else? Monday night gives us a couple of shows we wouldn't see today; Voice of Firestone (8:00 p.m., ABC) has "A Salute to Tchaikovsky" with the Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo, while KTCA's Modern Philosophy presents "Existentialism, II." At 8:30 p.m., CBS's Desilu Playhouse has "The Day the Phone Rang," starring Eddie Albert as an Italian immigrant trying to win a plumbing bid but instead finding himself mixed up with the Mafia. And on Small World (10:30 p.m., WCCO), the aforementioned Edward R. Murrow interviews pianist Arthur Rubinstein, poet Archibald MacLeish, and Policy literary official Antoni Słonimski. Come to think of it, you wouldn't see that on TV anymore, either.

Peter Lind Hayes has always been one of my favorites, with his friendly personality and exceedingly dry sense of humor. He, along with his wife, Mary Healy, have a M-F variety show on ABC at 11:30 a.m.; Tuesday, his guests include the trio The Playmates. (By the way, if you're not familiar with the brand of humor that Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy bring, here's a commercial for the show.) Remaining in the variety vein, one of the most popular comedians of the time is George Gobel, and his show alternates every other week with Eddie Fisher's; this week, Lonesome George's guests are Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jo Stafford, and Pamela Prather, the Rose Bowl queen, and her court. (7:00 p.m., NBC)

Wednesday is Kraft Music Hall night, and this season's host is Milton Berle, his first major television series since Texaco Star Theater. Mr. Television is already becoming history; next season, Perry Como will take over Music Hall and lead it to its greatest success. Tonight, however, Uncle Miltie welcomes Eydie Gorme and Ken Carpenter. (8:00 p.m., NBC) Later on, it's This Is Your Life (9:00 p.m., NBC), with this week's honoree listed only as "a man who was active in all phases of the movie industry during its early days." That man, according to the episode guide, is Coy Watson Jr., silent movie pioneer, who is honored along with his wife, Goldie.

The spotlight for Thursday is "The Hasty Heart," on the DuPont Show of the Month. (8:30 p.m., CBS), starring Don Murray, Jackie Cooper, and Barbara Bel Geddes. The story takes place at a World War II convalescent ward, and it's a reminder of how "present" the war still was in popular culture; it's not at all uncommon to see stories, particularly in dramatic anthology series, that take place either in World War II or Korea. For viewers (as well as many actors), these weren't period pieces—WWII had ended but thirteen years before.

Finally, Friday brings us Jackie Gleason's half-hour program (7:30 p.,m., CBS), a musical tribute to the Dorsey brothers, referred to here as "the late Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey"—well, Jimmy had died last year, and Tommy only the year before. By the way, this was perhaps the least successful of Gleason's several series, save perhaps You're in the Picture; it's lacking most all of Gleason's most famous creations, including The Honeymooners, and it fails to last the full season. And Edward R. Murrow is back again, this time with his famous Person to Person (9:30 p.m., CBS). Murrow's guests are Gene Kelly and Ivy Baker Priest, the Treasurer of the United States—and mother of Pat Priest of The Munsters. But I bet you all knew that. TV  


  1. Finally - an issue I have!

    Quickly through the week:

    - Saturday was ABC's music night:
    6:30: The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show.
    7:00: Jubilee USA, with Red Foley.
    8:00: Lawrence Welk's Dodge Dancing Party.
    9:00: The Sammy Kaye Show ("Swing And Sway with …").
    (If you're getting this in M-StP, check out the musical numbers this week …)

    - That Sunday football game was blacked out in Chicago, per the NFL's then-rule about such things.
    Channel 2, the CBS station, showed Meet The People, a wartime musical with Dick Powell, Lucille Ball, Bert Lahr, and Spike Jones and the City Slickers.
    Since I was never a football fan (even then, at age 8), I can tell you what I would be watching (even now, at age 68).

    - Peter Lind Hayes's show was five-a-week, Monday through Friday.
    The template was Arthur Godfrey's CBS morning show (which Peter and Mary had sub-hosted many times in the past - that was why ABC gave them the gig).
    You might note that P&M had the same guests all week long (a very informal show, as was Arthur's).
    The above was also true of Liberace's daily show, also a part of ABC's daytime lineup at this point.

    - Re Desilu Playhouse, did you note who Eddie Albert's co-star was?
    Or for that matter, who wrote the show?
    (Go back and look - I really want to see if you're paying attention.)

    - On Thursday, Behind Closed Doors was a Dragnetish docudrama about Naval Intelligence exploits in counterespionage, introduced by 'Commander Matson', who mainly narrated (although he sometimes took the lead role).
    'Matson' was played by Bruce Gordon (and if you loved him in pinstripes, you shoulda seen him in USN dress blues).

    - By the bye, I just noticed that on Thursday morning, Peter Lind Hayes had an outside guest booked: Cecil B. DeMille (I'm guessing that ABC didn't save the kinescope …).

    - Jackie Gleason had returned to CBS this fall after a year's layoff.
    In the interim, Art Carney and Audrey Meadows had made deals elsewhere, and so were unavailable to Jackie for this year's show.
    Also, CBS only gave him a half-hour this season; the Gleason style was severely cramped.
    Not long after this week's show, Jackie came on at the finish to announce that this series hadn't worked, and that he'd told CBS that they ought to shut down and retool, possibly for spring, with an hour or hour-and-a-half show (I remember watching this announcement).
    The next Friday, CBS launched a Western with unknown actors in the leads - Rawhide (who knew?).
    As for Jackie Gleason, he started doing movies, which took up most of his time for a couple of years, until You're In The Picture (and that's another story …).

    - Also on Friday, this was the night that 77 Sunset Strip ran its "haircut" of Strangers On A Train, with Richard Long as the suave murderer; later that same season, Long was back to similarly "barber" Dial M For Murder on 77SS - which is probably what led WB and ABC to reform him on Bourbon Street Beat ( and that's another story …).

    I'll stand down for the moment, and check back on what else is in this issue (there may be a trip to the Old DVD Wall).
    I'd suggest you do the same, where feasible.

    1. By your leave, another few "Go Back and Look" spots:

      - The Hallmark Christmas Tree special on Sunday features a comedy sketch about a "young married couple who deplore last-minute Christmas shopping."
      The young husband would be Tom Poston.
      The young wife would be Ellen McRae (whose name is misspelled "McCrae" in my copy); this would be before she married Mr. Burstyn (but that's another story …).

      - While looking on Sunday, I noticed that Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan are both working this evening.
      Consequently, I was a bit surprised that you apparently missed those listings.
      So - Go Back And Look!
      Maybe you can get back to us on Wednesday (or whenever …).

      - Back to Jackie Gleason for a sec:
      The deaths of the Dorsey Brothers occurred within six months of each oother, in '57 and '58.
      Gleason was hit hard by the two passings; he had personally talked the brothers (who had long been estranged) into doing Stage Show for him in '56.
      Thus, the Friday evening tribute, which was Jackie's way of signaling CBS that as long as he was wrapping his current show, he'd do as he saw fit.

      - On Tuesday, Dragnet has a story has a story about a mother finding a hypodermic needle in her son's room; Friday and Smith have to track down the dope dealers (a rarity on prime time TV in '58).
      Playing the young user was Jim Bridges; in later years, he would write and direct such movies as The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy, and a bunch of others (and that's yet another story …).

      More later, maybe …

  2. This issue is from my first Christmas, so I don't have any memories of it, but it's nice to know what was on that week. These were the days when holiday programming was done in December like it should be.

    The Welk Plymouth Show, with commercials, is partly on YouTube (the first half) at The Plymouth commercials with Peter Hansen are great to see and the music is good too.

    About the Kraft Music Hall of 12-17-58, Ken Carpenter was the long-time announcer of the show, not a guest like Eydie Gorme. He and Ed Herlihy did the announcing--Ken the intro and Ed the commercials. Ed could make you want "the zestful Roka" so bad you could taste it. They both dated back to the Bing Crosby days on the radio.

    And Eddie Albert's co-star on Desilu Playhouse was his wife Margo. The writer was Aaron Spelling and it wasn't The Day the Phone Rang, it was The Night the Phone Rang.

  3. Mike Doran: The NFL "blackout rule" exists to this very day. If the home team does not sell out the game 72 hours before kickoff, the game cannot be shown in it's 'market' (which has spared me countless Bucs and Jaguars games :)
    That includes playoff games and NFL Sunday Ticket.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!